The Howe Sound Crest Trail (HSCT) is a gorgeous 29 km trail stretching from Cypress Bowl to Porteau Cove. The trail takes you over multiple summits, offering spectacular views of Howe Sound, the Lions and the beautifully turquoise Deeks Lakes, to name a few. The trail is no walk-in-the-park and is typically tackled as an overnight trip, which is the safest way. However, it can be completed in one day by an experienced and fit person. I completed the Howe Sound Crest Trail with a friend as a trail run in about 9 hours. If you wanted to hike, and start the day very early, you can surely traverse the whole trail in one day, just be prepared to be finishing your hike the dark, and tired. The scenery is so spectacular however, that you’re better off planning to camp overnight, and taking the time to enjoy the trail without risk of getting stuck in the dark overnight if your day-hike doesn’t go to plan. There are several popular spots to camp, detailed below in the post (open fires are not permitted).
Howe Sound Crest Trail Hike Summary
Distance: 29 km
Elevation Gain: 610 m
Cumulative Elevation Gain: Approx 1,830m gain / 2,600m descent (according to my personal GPS, not including ascent of west Lion). Reverse those numbers if you start at Porteau Cove.
Highest Point: 1,542 m (Unnecessary Ridge)
Type: Point to Point
Season: Late Summer
Dogs Allowed: Yes (on leash)
Est. Driving Time from Vancouver: 30 Minutes
Trailhead Coordinates: N49.395901, W-123.203933
A word of caution
Given the altitude and terrain of much of the Howe Sound Crest Trail, you’ll want to be prepared for snow, and make doubly sure you take all the regular hiking safety precautions. The BC Parks hike overview declares “this is a summer use only trail, as several areas pose a high winter avalanche danger”. Also, late in the summer there are very few opportunities for fresh water on large stretches of the trail.
This is a long, difficult hike and you should be prepared for it.
You can tackle the trail north to south, but south to north is more common as it provides a net-downhill in elevation from Cypress Bowl to Porteau Cove. You’ll either need to drop a second car in Porteau Cove or have a friend pick you up on your exit from the trail.
Starting the Hike at Cypress Bowl
To begin the hike, go to the Cypress Mountain parking lot (exit #8 off Hwy 1). Park at the farthest parking lot closest to the ski lodge. There is a BC Parks map at the trailhead and you there are plenty of sign posts marking ‘Howe Sound Crest Trail’ to get you started. The beginning stretch of the trail is well marked and maintained, and should be easy to stay on track. The trek up to St. Mark’s Summit has recently undergone some major maintenance and is well-marked, wide, and easy traveling, aside from the steady gain in elevation. The hike to St. Mark’s Summit is about 5.5 km. Once at the summit, you will need to take a quick detour off the HSCT to the trails on your left to enjoy the view of Howe Sound.
After leaving St. Mark’s Summit and heading back onto the HSCT, you continue north with Mt. Unnecessary South and North peaks standing between you and the Lions. If you’ve ever wondered how Mt. Unnecessary received its name, you’ll now find out. The trail is not as well developed from here on, but there are still lots of trail markers. There is a steep climb up to Mt. Unnecessary Ridge. Provided you don’t scramble up the west Lion, this is actually the highest elevation for your trip at 1,542 m. Mt. Unnecessary offers spectacular scenery in all directions (Howe Sound to the west, North Vancouver to the East, and the Lions due north).
From here you carry on to the infamous Lions. You can scramble up the west Lion (with extreme caution) if you’d like, but this adds more distance, elevation, and time than what is listed in the Howe Sound Crest Trail hike specs of this guide. To continue on the Howe Sound Crest Trail, you’ll find the trail veers down to your right, and flanks the west Lion on its east face. Beware of rocks falling from those scaling the Lion above you. If you have a heavy pack, this part will also be difficult as you scale across the west Lion to the col between the Lions. The col between the Lions is a nice spot to take a break, enjoy the view, and get a lay of the land ahead of you.
Beyond the Lions
Next stop, James peak. The trail drops from the col, carries on around Thomas peak as you scramble over some boulders, and then climbs to Enchantment Pass. Once you reach the top of James peak, you’ll have great views in all directions. There is a fairly steep drop off the other side of James peak, and you will carry on the trail to flank around David Peak. This section of the trail is within the trees and parts of the trail feel a bit overgrown. Once you have made your around David Peak the trail will open up again and you will soon be in Magnesia Meadows. All told, from the West Lion to Magnesia Meadows is about 4 km of technical trail. Beyond David Peak there is a trail junction that connects to Mount Harvey to the west – make sure you stay due-north on the HSCT towards Brunswick Mountain.
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At Magnesia Meadow there is an emergency shelter. Carrying on past the shelter, you will climb a bit and enter the forest before coming to the junction for Brunswick Mountain. If you take the trail up (to your right) you will head up Brunswick, or down (to your left) and you will head down into Lions Bay. Instead, cross the trail and follow the Howe Sound Crest Trail northwest along Hat Pass. The trail will then descend to Brunswick Lake Hut, with some amazing scenery on this stretch of the trail.
There is a creek connecting Brunswick Lake to Deeks lake and the trail will parallel it. You will come to a waterfall, and views of Middle Lake and Deeks Lake.
Once you have reached Deeks Lake, you’re on the home stretch. Its now a steady downhill slog to the Porteau Cove parking lot. Once you come out from the trail there is a logging road, which carries you all the way to the parking lot. If you have a capable vehicle (AWD) you can actually drive your car up here from the parking lot (or have your friend pick you up from this point) by skirting the gate, which may be frowned-upon – I’m not sure. Otherwise, follow the logging road for the final 2 km or so to the parking lot.
For camping, your best source of information will come from BC Park’s page for Cypress Provincial Park, excerpted below:
Wilderness, backcountry or walk-in camping is allowed at higher elevations beyond the Alpine and Nordic ski areas and along the Howe Sound Crest Trail, but no facilities are provided.
There are 4 preferred sites along the Howe Sound Crest trail.
- Plateau above Enchantment Lake (11 km from Cypress Mountain Resort);
- Magnesia Meadows (14.5 km from Cypress Mountain Resort );
- Brunswick Lake (19 km from Cypress Mountain Resort);
- Deeks Lake (22 km from Cypress Mountain Resort).
Tent pads or sites are not provided. Campers are encouraged to camp in cleared areas as to limit environmental impacts. The backcountry of Cypress Provincial Park can be rugged, and weather is often severe. Campers should be experienced in the backcountry and prepared for all weather conditions. Campfires are NOT permitted. Backcountry winter camping (1 km beyond Alpine and Nordic ski areas) is allowed. No facilities are provided. Backcountry travelers are encouraged to use extreme caution in avalanche terrain.
Running the Howe Sound Crest Trail
For trail runners, it doesn’t get any better than this. Doing a car-drop and going light means you can traverse the whole trail in a day. Below is a great 3-minute video from my buddy Jeff Pelletier from his run of the HSCT.
Regarding trail running, I have received the following note from a reader, so please do your part to ensure there is no litter on the trail. Please pick up any inadvertently dropped litter you find: “The only litter I found on this trail was many tear-off strips of used gel packs, at regular intervals, suggesting that perhaps trail runners were doing the littering.”
(If you want to see the set of my photos from my run of Howe Sound Crest Trail click here)
Driving Directions and Parking
For this Howe Sound Crest Trail hike, typically one car is dropped in Porteau Cove. The parking lot is is off Porteau Road just about 15 minutes north of Lions Bay on the Sea to Sky highway. Here is the Google Map for the Porteau Cove Parking lot (although at the time of posting, Porteau Rd isn’t labelled in the map). Here is the Google Map for Cypress Bowl.
Editor's and Reader's Hike Rating
Variety of the terrain - 90
Views and scenery - 95
Not too crowded - 85
Overall 'fun factor' - 95
When it comes to hiking within a close proximity to the city of Vancouver, it doesn't get any better than this. Doable as an epic day-hike, or a two day adventure, the scenery and challenge of this trail are unparalleled.
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Other hikes in this area
- Hiking St. Mark’s Summit (moderate)
- Hiking Brunswick Mountain (difficult)
- Camping at Porteau Cove
- View all hiking guides here